Page last updated at 12:26 GMT, Wednesday, 6 May 2009 13:26 UK

How do you crack a winning smile?

Clockwise from top left: Gordon Brown, Tony Blair, Michelle Obama, Tom Cruise, Hillary Clinton and husband Bill

By Tom Geoghegan
BBC News Magazine

Gordon Brown's smile has been mocked by John Prescott and thousands on YouTube. But is there a secret to improving your smile?

There's not a lot that Gordon Brown and Victoria Beckham have in common, but getting stick for their smiles is one of them.

Mrs Beckham has been accused in the past of not smiling enough and she's joked about it, saying recently that she's been taking lessons to "master a smirk".

For the prime minister, there's less cause to raise the corners of the mouth.

He has suffered a week of ridicule for his YouTube venture, described by Guardian sketchwriter Simon Hoggart as featuring "the smile a 50-year-old man might use on the parents of the 23-year-old woman he is dating".

Send us a picture of your smile for body language expert Robert Phipps to analyse
E-mail your picture to subject line "SMILE"
Don't forget to include your name, age and where you live... and, if you like, a sentence or two about your smile

Now the former deputy prime minister, John Prescott, has imitated Mr Brown's grin while calling it the "worst bloody smile in the world".

But faking a smile can't be easy, especially when the subject you're trying to make light of is the reform of MPs' personal finances.

And every bride knows how hard it is to turn a smile on and off for hours. So what's the secret to making a smile look natural?

"The key is to put the thought whatever makes you happy - your children, a holiday, a birthday party - through your head before you smile," says body language expert Robert Phipps. "Then it comes across as much more genuine.

"It relaxes you if you're in a stressful situation and you have to put on a front. Think of things that genuinely make you happy."

Think happy thoughts
Take a deep breath and relax
Stand or sit straight, with shoulders back
Keep your head level, don't drop or tilt
Don't hold it because it will turn into a grimace
Better to look elsewhere, change the expression then return to the smile
Source: Robert Phipps

There are two muscles that move when we smile, he says. The zygomatic muscle turns the corner of the lips up to meet the eyes and the orbicularis oculi squints the corners of the eyes and causes the crows' feet.

Genuine smiles make the eyes and the corner of the mouth turn to meet each other but fake it and it's hard to make these muscles work because they are not easy to control.

"Gordon Brown is one of those people that can't hide his emotions very well and when he smiles genuinely - when he's with his wife and kids and quite relaxed - he's got quite a warm face but when he puts on the smile for the cameras it's not natural."

Three of the best smilers in politics are Tony Blair, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, says Mr Phipps, and they all exude confidence and relaxation.

All in the eyes

Mr Blair was adept at the timing of the smile, he says. He could smile, then change his expression, look somewhere else and then return to the smile again.

"A smile is key to an overall impression. You are either believed or not believed by how you present yourself. It's important to smile at the right moment because smiling at the wrong moment means your message is completely and utterly lost."

Gordon Brown
Think happy thoughts, Gordon

The non-verbal communication of politicians is all about image and those three men knew when to pause, when to slow things down, when to look there and when to look elsewhere.

Personality coach Jeremy Milnes says you can spot a bad smile because there's no honesty in the eyes.

"There's uncertainty. You can look into the eyes and you know this person is not smiling for real. The expression is stiff and not relaxed because the muscles are tense.

"The smile is not brought about by emotions but by a person changing their muscle shapes. It's forced."

Practising in the mirror is a good idea because you can tell what works, he says, and if you're lacking confidence then it's better to give a small smile than a cheesy grin, especially if you have bad teeth.

"Be aware of your teeth and be honest to yourself about them. If you have good teeth, flaunt them but avoid the big cheesy grin because it can look ridiculous."

- SEND US A PICTURE of your smile for body language expert Robert Phipps to analyse

- E-mail your picture to YOURPICS@BBC.CO.UK subject line "SMILE"

- Don't forget to include your NAME, AGE AND WHERE YOU LIVE... and, if you like, a sentence or two about your smile

A selection of your comments appears below.

Mr. Brown has a lovely smile. Get your minds on a higher plain people - there are real problems out there. Be glad you have an intelligent, caring man to lead you.
Maggie Walker, London, Canada

I think people should leave Gordon alone about his smiling, it's getting to quite a horrible bullying stage. If he doesn't smile he gets called a dour Scot, and if he does he gets absolutely shredded. Loads of people look stupid when they smile, there's nothing to be ashamed about!
Cassie, Birmingham

Gordon Brown seems to have a remarkable lack of understanding as to when a smile is natural and desirable, and when it is unnecessary and ridiculous. A brief, relaxed smile to a bank of photographers as he walks past can surely not be that difficult (it's not like he's never been in front of the press before). Conversely, whichever aide was waving frantically from behind the camera telling him to smile during that YouTube broadcast should be sacked instantly- why should MPs pay and expenses be a subject to grin about?!
Moreton, London

Gordon Brown has a horrible smile when he's faking it. However, he can smile nicely when he's truly amused as he was during Tony Blair's farewell speech. Poor guy is getting blasted for his sincerity and I can imagine the spin doctors telling him to smile, smile, smile even if it's not funny. He can't do it. Nor should he.
J Munro, Epsom

Recently my boss left to work in an overseas branch, and asked for a photo of the team. After balancing the camera on a pile of files, rushing to be included in the photo, I came out looking like I had goofy front teeth, and looking rather odd. Unfortunately, this photo will be circulated around the company! Great......
Clare, London

It'd be nice if people actually cared about the policies and actions of the people running the country rather than their smile.
Rob Watkins, Brighton, UK

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